Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What? Council to Nominate Russo For Vacant Planning and Zoning Seat?


You can't make this stuff up.

Stephan Devoto was dutifully elected to the lone, vacant Planning and Zoning seat open to a Democrat in the recent election.  He received more votes on the ballot than any candidate, save the mayor.

I believe he received those votes because he's perceived as honest, fair, cooperative, smart and independent-minded.

At the first meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission, last week, Devoto was robbed of an opportunity to become chairman.  He had the votes lined up.  With alternate Beth Emery sitting for the seat vacated by Carl Chisem, who had just been elected to the Common Council, Devoto had engineered a bi-partisan vote, and constructed a bi-partisan leadership team.

Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men...

Carl Chisem showed up and took his seat at the meeting (something he apparently, legally had the right to do).  He insisted he was doing his duty.  To whom he was doing his duty became clear later. With Chisem sitting, and unlikely to vote for Devoto, the meeting dissolved.  Republicans left the meeting, leaving it without a quorum, saying that any decisions made would be questionable because of Chisem's insistence on sitting on the P&Z and on the Common Council simultaneously.  No one in town can ever remember an elected candidate insisting on serving in two capacities.

No vote was taken.  Opportunity for a bi-partisan commission lost.

Conveniently, Chisem resigned his seat the next day.  Doing his duty, no doubt.

Conveniently, because by the time the next P&Z meeting is held, the Common Council will make a resolution to fill that seat conveniently vacated by Chisem.  The Common Council meets tonight at 7 PM in Council Chambers.

According to the agenda for that meeting, the Council is set to nominate Dan Russo to the vacated seat. This is not unusual, in that the Council often appoints the candidate who received the second highest number of votes in the election.  Devoto received 4083 votes.  Russo received 3589, and the next highest Democratic candidate, Robert Blanchard received 3405.

However, there is also a history of the Council selecting an alternate member of the Planning and Zoning Commission over the highest vote getter.  Quentin Phipps' appointment to a P&Z seat comes to mind.  In the current case, such a member, Beth Emery, exists, and she is willing to be seated as a full commissioner.  She's also capable, attending meetings regularly, carefully following planning and zoning proposals, and asking good questions.

By the way, Beth Emery received 4523 votes when she was elected in 2011.

But the Council plans to appoint Russo.

We all remember Dan Russo.

He was a strong proponent of the zone change to allow Centerplan a clear path to development on Washington Street.  He was a proponent despite hours of cogent testimony from opponents to the zone change.  He was a proponent despite the fact that the development would hurt the neighbors, the neighborhood and a unique historic district.  And in his defense of the zone change, he made statements that showed he truly didn't understand the change, or its effects.

Russo has also missed 40% of the meetings he was supposed to attend as an elected member of the P&Z.

In the past, Russo has been chastised by his fellow Democrats for supporting Joe Lieberman for Senate, when the official Democratic candidate was Ned Lamont.  Interestingly, Russo was chairman of the Democratic Town Committee at that time.  In that role, he also nominated himself as chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Russo also appointed himself the barometer of what a "true Democrat" is when, in a primary campaign against Democrat Stephan Devoto, he made it clear that he thought Devoto was not a real Democrat, and was in fact (horrors!), "a Republican."

With Beth Emery as a capable candidate to fill the vacancy on the Planning and Zoning Commission, one can only imagine that there is an ulterior motive to appoint Russo.  Russo is unlikely to vote for Devoto as chair.

If they feel compelled to, the Council could provide Russo the opportunity to serve by appointing him as a P&Z alternate, after they appoint Beth Emery to the permanent seat.   If Russo accepted the position as alternate, it would demonstrate his willingness to serve the community.  Such selflessness is uncommon in politics, but it would be a meaningful gesture that politics of self-interest can be trumped by community service.

Ed McKeon is cofounder of the Middletown Eye.  He is a friend and associate of Stephen Devoto, and worked to help Devoto get elected.  Stephen Devoto did not ask or advocate for this commentary tobe written.  McKeon has also been an active opponent of commercial development in the historic neighborhood on Washington Street.  McKeon is also a lifelong Democrat, and a member of the Board of Education.


Anonymous said...

Maybe if ALL the Dems had ALL gotten together from the get go and strategized about Chisem's replacement this could have been avoided instead of everyone cutting their own side deals.

Anonymous said...

We all would prefer Devoto no question, but the charter is clear on who has the power to fill vacancies in elected positions. It is the Common Council, not Ed McKeon, not me or not anyone else reading this. As you mentioned Ed, the tradition is to name the next highest vote getter. You do not like the tradition because it hurts your man. As much as you castigate Russo on his position on Centerplan, Devoto will have to disqualify himself should that issue come up again because he has made his opposition known well in advance of judging any application.
Anyone who knows anything about P & Z or similar commissions knows that the Chairman simply runs the meeting. It is not a position of power like a congressional committee chairman.
Let's get over this nonsense and get on with the business of the city.

Anonymous said...

Typical Middletown back stabbing politics, and "screw the voter" attitude.

Ed McKeon said...


No question "my man" Devoto is getting a raw deal. The charter is clear, but the charter does not say the person with the next highest votes gets the seat. That's a decision that could either be political, or for the good of the community. By the way, the tradition only holds true when it's convenient for the decision-maker. I'm sure Devoto will be conscientious in his duties to recuse himself when needed. Unfortunately, not all commissioners seem to feel that way. And the P&Z Commissioner sets agenda, and recognizes comments and questions from the panel. That's quite enough power. In fact, the current chair refused a request for a special meeting so the election of chair could occur.

I'm with you, let's get past the nonsense, but let's not accept nonsense as SOP simply because it's expedient.

BTW, my name's Ed. What's yours?

Ed McKeon said...

Anon: 12:44

Maybe decisions like these should not be made by "the party" but by the members of the commission.

Why should ALL the Dems, think and act in the same way.

I voted for individuals, not a group, to make important decisions.

Ed. You?

Anonymous said...

Pretty funny that when ed's buddy acts outside party lines its okay but when the party acts within its authority and tradition, its not okay.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Anon 2:59

Hilarious, isn't it. Party tradition? That's the tradition when you do whatever's expedient at the moment, right? A knee slapper!

Acting out of party lines? Ha, ha, ha. What are we talking about a cult, or a group of people with mutual (but not sworn) interests and ideas. Zombie apocalypse!

Party authority? He, he, he. If I knew what such a thing was, I'd be rolling with merriment.

Get a grip, man (woman?) If we can't cross party lines in a small town, then we will never get anything done.

Let me let you in on the real joke. It ain't funny.

As always, your humble punching bag, Ed.

And you are...?

Brian Kaskel said...

2nd try on this post. I am a Republican. Realistically - conservative on policy, and liberal on social matters. But I am disgusted by politics as usual. I absolutely can't stand and have no use for partisan politics. Here is my opinion - which is not original by any means:
Wouldn't it be great if politicians worked for the greater good of the citizens and families who elected them, rather than their political "career". (Another vote for term limits here)
Middletown has (or should I say had) a chance to buck the trend - but instead they decided to go the route of the wink, nod and a hand shake. Makes me question why I was so excited to run for office just 2 weeks ago. (Not sour grapes I promise)
It is unfortunate that partisan politics reared it's ugly head in an arena as important as P&Z. A bipartisan solution was created with ease, and the DEM's played political chess and proved once again to the citizens of Middletown that they are not to be considered different.

Regards and Good Luck

Anonymous said...

Ed- no mention of how Mayor Drew nominated Phil Pessina to fill the GOP vacancy on PZ and didn't ask anyone what they thought or filled with the next highest GOP vote getter. You write about the D's but not what the mayor is forcing the GOP to do.If Pessina gets the GOP alternate spot will he be seated and support Russo or Devoto? I think that will change your tune.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the non partisan espousal and "let's just all get along" is situational And dependent on devoto's elevation as chair.

Anonymous said...

Ed what about the Democrats trying to stick Pessina on the Republican alternate spot? Same issue but because its the side you hate you say nothing?

Ed McKeon said...

Anons 2:36, 2:58 and 3:36

I appreciate your concern about the Republican replacement, and I invite you to write a cogent commentary. We'll post it. But not anonymously.

BTW, I don't hate Republicans. Unfortunately, a lot of the problems in governance can be laid at the feet of partisanship on both sides.

In general, philosophically, I don't agree with Republican principles, especially in national politics. But there are a lot of Democratic ideas I don't agree with either.

This, our side and your side business is what gets in the way of progress. For the past two years, the BOE has worked very well, without resorting to partisan politics.

I'm Ed, and you're not, but then again, I don't know who you are.